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The Effect of the Double Muscling Gene in Cattle on Production Efficiency and Meat Quality - LK0653

Sustainable Livestock Production LINK programme

Project LK0653: The effect of the double muscling gene on production efficiency and meat quality

Start date: 01/01/2003 End date: 30/06/2006

The objective of this project was to investigate the effects of alleles of the myostatin (“double muscling”) gene in the South Devon breed, both in the homozygous and heterozygous form, on a range of traits of economic importance, including growth, carcass conformation and meat quality.

Key results
On the positive side, the MH allele was associated with increases in the hot carcass weight, muscle conformation of animals and the PUFA:SFA ratio, and in reduced fat levels. Although we did not have direct data on this, based on the MH allele being associated with lighter animals but heavier carcasses, it is likely that it also increases the saleable meat percentage. However, on the negative side the MH allele was also associated with increased calving scores (difficulty), and reductions in desirable flavour characteristics. Furthermore, the MH allele is associated with reduced liveweight gain. The heterozygote benefited from favourable dominance in calving difficulty and liveweight gain, but dominance was unfavourable in muscle scores, whilst for all other traits there was no evidence for the heterozygote being different from the average of the homozygotes.

The differences in gain observed may be due to differences in nutrient requirements for the MH homozygotes compared to other animals, as a result of their increased muscling and consequently increased demand for protein at a comparable weight. This interpretation is supported by the observation and direction of dominance observed in both gain and muscling scores. If this is confirmed the sub-optimal nutrition will have an impact upon total nutrient excretion and environmental impact.

Industrial relevance and expected benefits
The relationship between myostatin genotype and phenotype/performance is complex. The potential complexity of this relationship is increased by the existence of additional mutations in the cattle myostatin gene, a number of which have been identified in other breeds. Thus, this project poses questions not only about the most appropriate breeding objectives to exploit, control or eliminate myostatin mutations, but also questions of fundamental biological interest concerning the genetic control of complex traits.

The study has provided data to inform breeding strategies to manage the gene to address optimal breeding goals for growth, conformation, calving and composition traits and to exploit any net benefits from heterozygotes. In reaching the decisions on breeding targets it will be necessary to weigh the different traits affected taking into account whether the effects of the gene are additive or dominant. The best way to exploit this gene may be a managed breeding scheme which maintains heterozygotes in the South Devon population, while limiting the number of homozygous MH/MH animals. The latter animals might be considered beneficial as animals for marketing to dairy breeders, since the offspring will all be heterozygotes. This strategy would avoid the more severe negative aspects associated with the homozygous genotype. Alternatively, the double muscling MH allele could be eliminated, which would remove the requirement for ongoing monitoring of allele frequencies and their distribution in the population.

The study suggested that MH/MH animals may have sub-optimal feeding in practice, due to their greater need for protein at the later stages of development, leading to greater nutrient wastage, with consequences for environmental impact and economic efficiency. Such a hypothesis suggests that the nutrient requirements for MH/MH carrying cattle should be reviewed, and if necessary new recommendations developed for this allele. If differences in requirements are confirmed then there is a complementary need for farmers to be made aware of the need for identification of genotype and the best practice for customised nutrition and associated benefits. It is possible that sub-optimal nutrition in practice might explain in part the differences in meat quality found, but such a hypothesis can only be considered if and when differences in nutritional needs are established.

The importance of this study is strengthened by the fact that double muscling is being positively selected for in other breeds, in Europe and also in the UK, and in some cases the MH allele has been introgressed into new breeds and is generally increasing in frequency. Given this scenario, the results from the South Devon form a first approximation to the impact of the MH allele in other breeds, but it is evident from gross comparisons of Belgian Blue, South Devon, Aberdeen Angus and Highland cattle which carry the 11 bp deletion MH allele that the genetic background influences the phenotypic expression. It is therefore possible that the set of impacts of the myostatin allele are not repeated in other breeds, and resolving this knowledge gap is important, so that UK breeders can make more informed decisions when selecting for these alleles.

Dr John Williams
Department of Genetics and Genomics
Roslin Institute (Edinburgh)
EH25 9PS
Tel: 0131 5274310
Fax: 0131 4400434

Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society
Meat & Livestock Commission
Roslin Institute
South Devon Herd Book Society
University of Bristol
Jaspers Ltd


Project Documents
• Executive Summary : LK0653 Executive Summary   (3583k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2003

To: 2006

Cost: £79,649
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Aberdeen Angus Cattle Society, Roslin Institute, Edinburgh (BBSRC), University - Bristol, South Devon Herd Book Society, Meat and Livestock Commission
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Sustainable Farming and Food